Explore the New England Marine Monument From Your Armchair

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is conducting a live exploration of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument for the first time since its designation three years ago.

Left to right: diverse assemblage of corals and anemones; Freyella elegans seastar; halosaur. Images courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep Connections 2019.

On September 4th, NOAA's remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), the Deep Discoverer, will launch off the vessel Okeanos Explorer, and be piloted down into the head of Oceanographer Canyon, the largest of the monument’s three canyons. The ROV’s high-definition cameras will then show us what makes this 5000 square mile “blue park,” the only one of its kind of the continental U.S., so special.

In a way, this could be considered the monument’s official coming out party. Scientists explored it multiple times before the designation, and the organization OceanX conducted an exciting expedition there last September. But this will be the first exploration conducted by the federal government on behalf of the American public, to whom the monument is dedicated.

And the public can join the party. In the internet age, no need for your own submersible: the views from NOAA’s ROV will be streamed live. You can listen in as dozens of scientists on the Okeanos Explorer and around the world discuss and document what they are seeing in real-time. These dives into the ethereal and mysterious deep sea are captivating—the livestream of a 2013 expedition to the area attracted 875,000 views!

NOAA’s exploration of the Monument is part of the agency’s Deep Connections 2019 mission, which is visiting a range of deep sea sites off the New England and Canadian coasts between August 6th through September 15th. In addition to September 4th's Oceanographer Canyon dive, currently-planned dives in the monument include Retriever Seamount on September 5th, and Bear Seamount on September 6-7, although these plans are subject to change for weather and other reasons (daily updates to the schedule are posted here). The dives are scheduled to occur between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm EST.

Map of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

The Canyons and Seamounts Monument is the nation’s only marine national monument (the most protected type of our ocean parks) off the continental U.S.  It is located about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod, where the continental shelf drops off to the deep sea. The monument was designated to protect an astonishing diversity and abundance of marine life, like thousand-year-old deep-sea coral colonies, seabirds like the iconic Atlantic puffin, and marine mammals, like endangered sperm whales, that inhabit canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon and seamounts as tall as any mountain east of the Rockies. Expeditions like that being conducted by NOAA are rare and essential opportunities to grow our understanding of the monument’s unique ecosystems and exceptional biodiversity. I have written more about the monument and the threats it faces here.

So, these next few days are your opportunity to perhaps see a too-cute-for-words dumbo octopus or thickets of astonishingly-bright pink bubblegum coral, or—for the deep-sea cognoscenti of you—a more rarely-seen Greenland shark, pompom anemone or hydromedusa jellyfish, or any of the more than thousand species found in the monument area. Perhaps you’ll even be watching when the scientists spot a new species, as has been known to happen. I guarantee that you will be wholly taken in by the adventure and by the monument’s otherworldly beauty.  Tune in.

Red coral in Oceanographer Canyon of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2013

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